Disclaimer: I don't own Resident Evil or any of the characters used in this fic. I do, however, take artistic license for the facility and everything contained therein. As if that means much. :D
The facility was, naturally, underground, sprawling over what probably approximated the size of a decently populated city and containing far too many hallways. It was easy to lose track of time in the endless tainted sterility, identical room after identical room yielding no useful information. It was often a wearisome task, occasionally spanning over a week, and yet Claire always volunteered.
Rationally, she knew it was because Leon and Chris had better things to spend their time on than combing old Umbrella labs for tiny hints that probably didn't exist. Rationally, she knew they allowed it because the remaining danger was minimal. The labs had been picked clean by its own rogue agents, the traps triggered and puzzles solved. They were mostly dead end missions, but Claire insisted on making herself useful – tedious though it was, it was still necessary – and so they sent her off with a pat on the head and the usual warnings.
Rationally, Claire knew there was more to this than just her desire to help out. However, thus far nothing had occurred, so she could pretend that explanation lurking in her subconscious didn't exist at all. No, Claire was playing the good Samaritan, taking on a task that needed to be done and which her brother was too busy to do. She'd even managed to procure a few interesting items, though nothing groundbreaking – a remaining vial of some form of liquid that she'd been surprised to find just laying around; a few reports related to the infections that continued to break out intermittently in third world countries; once she'd even discovered a floppy disk ripe with information, though most was encoded – but the majority of the labs contained nothing useful, unless one found bits and pieces of nightmare inducing documents important.
But she kept breaking in, and she kept searching each and every room from top to bottom. Her brother wrote it off to the family stubbornness, and Leon appreciated every ounce of help they received, but Claire…
She knew better.
They could have sent Jill. In fact, having been a police officer at one point, she was probably more suited to the task. The only training Claire had consisted of impromptu target practice in the Arctic and the few lessons Barry had been able to spare whenever he'd visited the group. But Jill, too, had other tasks to occupy her time, and this was a project Claire wanted all to herself.
Her heels clicked loudly on the tiled floor, the odd dark stain marring the searing whiteness here and there, with the walls faring no better. Claire imagined that the artwork was, at one point, exquisite – something she'd noted in every laboratory thus far – but the remaining pieces were destroyed, torn and stained and some partially missing. She had to give credit where it was due; whoever had been in charge of decorating always did a rather decent job.
Not that Claire had much of an eye for such things, but they always looked better than the apartment she shared with Chris. The boy was physically incapable of hanging up a painting without it being crooked.
Aside from the sounds of her movement, the lab was silent, as they usually were. There wasn't even the whirring of fans; the power was almost out in this one, and as a result, the heat was nearly stifling. Claire counted herself lucky that the emergency lights were still lit, else she'd be relying on the flashlight she'd almost left at home. She never enjoyed that.
Sighing through her nose, she pushed open another door, entering a room only slightly differing from all the others she'd already explored in that there was a broken down miniature refrigerator in one corner and a floor-length mirror hanging from the wall to her left. The initial catch of her reflection, distorted by grime, startled her, and she silently shook her head and cursed herself.
She was going to die young of a heart attack, she just knew it.
Not bothering to close the door behind her – she had a habit of leaving them open after her perusals, so as not to explore the same room twice – she headed immediately over to the toppled bookcase, kneeling down and sorting through the mess. The odds of something important having been overlooked were slim, but she kept her infrequent victories in mind as she shuffled through everything, trying to ignore the monotony of it all.
One of the memos, while not useful, was at least interesting. Apparently one of the scientists had been pregnant, having conceived at some point while sequestered underground with the rest of them, and the author guessed that the father was another of the scientists. Then, as it progressed, it grew darker. The woman's moods had blackened, her temper flaring at every turn, and eventually, she'd vanished altogether.
A few months later, everyone heard her screaming, and then the sound of a baby crying. Despite trolling the facility from top to bottom, no one could uncover her hiding place, and rumors began to spread. The nature of the experimentations being done seemed to be common knowledge, and thus was never explained in any detail in the memo, which left Claire feeling frustrated.
Somehow, the writer connected the experimentations with the pregnant woman and her child, but never delved into any reasoning. In fact, he – or she – downright skirted them, as if they were too distasteful to linger upon. It broke off abruptly and Claire realized there were pages missing.
That happened far too often for her tastes. So much left unfinished, so much information slipping through her fingers. She felt like she failed more often than not, and it often left her feeling down at the end of the day. Leon, of course, tried to assure her that they appreciated her efforts and that the more labs they could cross off their list, the better. But Claire left the facilities with nightmares more often than anything else. Nothing she'd experienced in the Arctic could have prepared her for the extent of Umbrella's corruption, the depths of depravity it had been willing to plunge into without hesitation or remorse.
Placing the memo aside – Chris might be interested in reading it, as ominous as it was – she began pawing through the rest of the paperwork, finding some half-ruined medical records and other, more dry memos discussing the day-to-day maintenance of the facility.
It was while she was engrossed in learning about the ventilation system that her instincts forced her to freeze, goosebumps invading her skin and the hair on the back of her neck rising. Lips parted just slightly, breath even, she slowly moved to grasp the magnum on her hip.
"Don't bother," came a dry voice. "It won't do you any good."
Nonetheless, Claire drew her weapon and pivoted smoothly, kneeling on just one leg now as she leveled the barrel at a too-familiar form.
Just the specter she'd been expecting to see without actually admitting to herself that she'd been looking for him all along. Where else would he lurk but the broken shadows of his old allegiance? After all, it was no surprise that a creature such as he had emerged from these ruins.
"What are you doing here?" she hissed, as if she hadn't been anticipating this very meeting.
"I could ask the same of you." He stood completely at ease, those dark sunglasses shielding his eyes, face impassive. It was always impossible to read him, and she knew that if he decided to get violent, she would have no warning.
But somehow, she wasn't all that worried.
"I thought you were dead."
His lips twitched just slightly. "Figured that self-destruct in Prague caught me? Don't be so childish."
"I never saw you exit the facility."
"You weren't meant to."
Their conversation, as expected, ground to a halt. There was nothing she could accuse him of that he didn't already have an answer prepared for. However, a part of her grew moderately excited; if Wesker was here, then there was something important lingering that he didn't want anyone else to acquire. That had been the situation in Prague, and she had a feeling it was the same here.
If only she'd managed to arrive a few days earlier, she might have found whatever it was he was seeking and spirited it away. Instead, she'd be lucky to get out with her life.
Crossing his arms as if bored, he continued in his deadpan voice, "Umbrella truly is fond of their self-destruct systems, aren't they? You'd think they'd grow bored of it eventually."
"It does what it's meant to do."
"How aptly put."
Figuring that there was no point in letting her arm grow tired aiming at gun at a creature who could outrun bullets, Claire lowered her weapon and rose to her feet, replacing it in the holster at her hip. "What are you doing here?" she asked again. No one ever accused Claire of not trying.
"The same you are, I presume." He shifted his stance when she moved, and then returned to his unnatural stillness, watching her. "I also presume that had you found anything, you wouldn't still be here, and this place wouldn't still be standing."
So Prague troubled him as well. "Still stings?" After all, once she'd discovered what he'd been seeking, she'd managed to destroy it before he got his grubby paws all over it. Chris hadn't been pleased, of course, but in Claire's mind, information that wasn't in Wesker's hand was a victory, even if it wasn't in theirs either. She's much rather it be lost than be put to whatever nefarious uses Wesker had planned.
Nothing ever seemed to ruffle him.
A sound off to the side stole his attention, but Claire's gaze never wavered. Rationally, she should have looked as well, considering Wesker tended to work alone and she'd found no signs of life in the facility. However, instead, for just that moment, she was free to study him, trying to figure out what haunted her dreams.
It didn't take long for him to realize he was under scrutiny, and the look he gave her was almost amused. "See something you like, Miss Redfield?"
Color rushed to her cheeks, though more out of anger than embarrassment. "What was that noise?"
"Are you worried?"
"Then relax, dear heart. I'm sure you know just as well as I do what that noise was."
The memo flashed through her mind, the only item of interest she'd discovered yet, but she pushed that away. The notion was absurd, especially considering there was still a third of the facility left to explore. She didn't know how much Wesker had already ransacked, but he seemed to presume he'd already traced her steps.
Or he was just playing with her.
"What was it?"
His attention was distracted again, and now Claire felt irritated. It was clear he didn't view her as a threat, and while she was well aware that she was helpless as a kitten around him, she didn't appreciate being treated like one.
"Wesker?" She was pushing her luck, and she knew it. Likely, he was offering her ample opportunities to pick up and leave, but the thought of her brother's reaction was enough to keep her feet planted. When he first discovered that the two of them had spoken, he'd nearly torn her head off with his verbal beatings, and it had taken Leon, Barry, and Jill in a combined effort to keep him from running off and trying to find Wesker.
There was still bad blood between those two, though Claire had never gotten a straight answer out of either as to how it started. For Chris, it was enough that Wesker had betrayed and slaughtered nearly the entire STARS team. For Wesker…
The sound grew louder, a harsh scritching like nails on a chalkboard, or a twisted piece of metal dragged along the floor. It made Claire shudder and cover her ears until it passed, and she became aware that this time, Wesker was studying her.
His half-smile was apologetic. "I'm afraid I cannot risk your interference this time," he said in that self-possessed, almost condescending tone.
A question was killed on her lips as Wesker vanished from her view and pain exploded in the back of her head. Consciousness held on long enough to hear his murmured words.
"Sorry, dear heart."
Claire's awareness returned with a throbbing behind her eyes and a sour taste in the back of her mouth. Her cheek was pressed to a cool floor, and for a moment, she remained where she was, mind frantically racing to reconcile the pain with what she last remembered. A coppery scent reached her nose when she touched the back of her head, and she shuddered.
Opening her eyes, she was met with a flickering light that only worsened the churning in her belly. Groaning, she pushed herself to her knees, trying to ignore the sensation of déjà vu that spirited her back to the island prison where her life had been turned upside down.
Unfortunately, her surroundings didn't help much. The cell she was imprisoned in was small, containing a narrow bed and chipped washstand and long-dead plant lurking in the corner. The bars were covered with lichen and stained with age, and the table and chairs beyond were toppled and discarded. The walls…
Her eyes skittered away from the walls, not wanting to process that still-wet liquid splattered on them, or deliberate as to what types of mold were growing within the numerous cracks and crevices. Not to mention the decidedly distasteful shackles that still held the remnants of a human body, or at least, what she presumed was a human body. Just one glance was enough to show that it was decayed beyond her skills to determine what it truly belonged to. However, she simply didn't want to consider it belonging to anything else.
Her hands tingled as they reached desperately to her hip, finding that her magnum was gone, along with the rest of her weaponry and supplies. All that was left to her was a pack of matches and a small, unfamiliar coin she couldn't remember bringing with her. Even her hair tie was missing.
Grasping the bars and trying to ignore the sickly way they tried to cling to her fingers, she used the leverage to pull herself the rest of the way up, standing unsteadily on her feet. Her thoughts were swirling as badly as her stomach, and for a moment, she thought she was going to lose her lunch.
Wesker. The lab. That awful, invasive sound that he insisted didn't concern her. And now this. Where was she?
She doubted he'd have moved her far. There was too much risk involved with that. But did that mean the facility had holding cells that hadn't been on the map she'd studied? It was possible – she'd heard of and seen more ludicrous things in other labs across the world – and the only explanation she was willing to cling to. After all, if he'd taken her somewhere else entirely, it meant she was at his mercy. If she was still in the facility, Leon and her brother knew she was there, and eventually, they would seek her out. Right?
Leaning heavily against the bars, she tried to yell and found her voice hoarse. Clearing her throat, she finally managed to croak out a rather pathetic, "Help!"
The answering sound left her blood cold.